Dr. V. Sam Prasad MBBS, MPP, Country Program Director, AHF- INDIA CARES.
With the firestorm that is COVID-19 raging throughout India and other countries, the world is in dire need of an urgent and innovative call-to-action to have a real chance at defeating the pandemic.
AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest HIV/AIDS care and treatment provider worldwide, is spearheading a global initiative to provide equal access to COVID-19 vaccines by calling on all governments, vaccine manufacturers, and international public health institutions to ‘VOW’ to protect humanity and ‘Vaccinate Our World’ now!.
“The ‘VOW’ call-to-action is a global campaign for vaccine equity – to ensure all nations, regardless of economic status, get equitable access to lifesaving vaccines.
This ambitious but achievable ‘Vaccinate Our World’ call-to-action includes five primary tenets:
- The global COVID-19 vaccination effort must secure $100 billion from G20 countries,
- It must produce and provide seven billion vaccine doses worldwide within one year,
- Companies and governments must waive or suspend all COVID-19 vaccine patents during the pandemic,
- Countries must also be 100% transparent in sharing information and data, and finally,
- World leaders must promote far greater international cooperation as the driving force for ending the pandemic, not continue with politics as usual.
India kickstarted vaccine equity and access efforts by supplying more than 66.4 million vaccines to 95 plus countries mostly as grant in aid, gifts and through COVAX facility – to countries in South Asia, Africa, South America, Caribbean and the Pacific- ,” said AHF India Cares, Country Program Director, Dr. V. Sam Prasad.
“On the contrary, Wealthy nations promised at the onset of the pandemic to ensure ample vaccines for the entire world, but as evidenced by the hoarding of enough vaccines to inoculate their populations as many as five times over, it’s clear we need another solution. It is unacceptable that many countries will be waiting until 2023 to get vaccines. The world must join and ‘VOW’ to end this pandemic by taking all necessary steps to ‘Vaccinate Our World’ now!”- added Dr. V. Sam Prasad.
Of the more than 1.34 billion vaccines that have been administered worldwide, 83% have gone to wealthy nations. Low-income countries have received a mere 0.2%, and that puts the Global community at risk of contracting the emerging mutant variants of COVID-19.
In addition to securing sufficient funding for vaccine procurement, vaccine production must be increased worldwide, and access to patents should be free-flowing to allow for the rapid scale-up of production.
Ending the pandemic will also require much more information sharing and cooperation between nations—including removing self-imposed restrictions on vaccine exports for those countries with a surplus. Leaders from the G20 and global financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank must also VOW to step up their contributions immediately.
While the pharmaceutical industry has proven that it can respond with rapid innovation to meet the emergency demand for COVID-19 vaccines, we must, object to many vaccine manufacturers’ decisions to profit from vaccine sales, particularly when taxpayer-funded investment and research drove development. For that investment alone, the world should have access to the technology and information it need to expand vaccine production globally, wherever the infrastructure can accommodate or be established for it.
Many nations, including Canada, the U.S., U.K., and European Union have purchased enough vaccines to vaccinate their populations multiple times over. With a worldwide shortage, these countries must be compelled to share their surplus vaccine stockpiles. At a time when most of the world has little access to vaccines, nations should establish a framework to ensure the rest of the world can also be protected. “If one country is not safe from COVID-19—none of us are safe”.
The bulk of vaccine procurements have been accomplished through closed-door deals between individual governments and drug companies where little information is released on the details of the agreements, which drives up vaccine costs. During this and any pandemic, all vaccine agreements should be made public to encourage increased cooperation and to ensure all countries are able to access affordable medicines and vaccines.
COVID-19 vaccines are primarily funded by taxpayers – not pharmaceutical companies. We must call for all vaccine manufacturers to openly share their technology and intellectual property – and for governments to ensure COVID-19 vaccines are declared a public good. We can look at past examples, such as the AIDS epidemic, and save the world as we did with antiretroviral medicines for HIV.
Even with current vaccine production ramped up to maximum levels, vaccine manufacturers are still unable to meet the demand for lifesaving COVID-19 doses. If the world is to fight this and future pandemics, vaccine production must be increased across every continent. A handful of pharmaceutical companies simply cannot be relied upon for vaccinating the entire world.
India joined South Africa in advocating to the WTO for Intellectual Property and Patent waivers so that the Global South could benefit and thereby make vaccines available for their citizens.
The Wall Street Journal reported that wealthy countries have now reached supply agreements with vaccine manufacturers through 2023, meaning the vaccine divide between rich and poor countries will grow even wider. (“Rich Nations Secure Shots Through 2023,” WSJ, June 2, 2021) “About 6 billion doses have been purchased by more than two dozen rich nations and the European Union, according to the latest figures from the Duke University’s Global Health Innovation Center, which tracks vaccine purchases. By comparison, the rest of the world has combined to purchase more than 3 billion doses.”
The Governments of G20 as they meet later in the year, is faced with a decision that will place it either on the right – or wrong – side of history as countries in Asia and throughout the world continue to be devastated by the worst global public health crisis any of us have ever witnessed.
US administration has taken the unprecedented step of supporting efforts to reach a deal on waiving IP for COVID-19 vaccines. We must stand united to urge the Governments of G20 to follow suit and mandate that vaccine manufacturers do the right thing by granting access to their intellectual property. Since we will likely have to collectively contend with the novel coronavirus for years to come, the Leadership of G20 must quickly and justly do its part to prevent countless avoidable deaths by allowing the increased production of COVID-19 vaccines by generic manufacturers.
$100 billion must be pledged to secure enough vaccines to inoculate the entire world. Leaders from the G20 and global financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank must VOW to step up their contributions immediately.
Wealthy countries have secured enough COVID-19 vaccine doses to vaccinate their entire populations—who are mostly white—almost three times over, leaving many poorer countries struggling to vaccinate even their most vulnerable. Right now, over 60% of the world’s population live in countries that will not see widespread vaccine coverage until 2022 or even later, allowing the virus to continue to mutate and extending the lifespan of this pandemic. Vaccine hoarding will prolong the pandemic for everyone and drag down the global economy.
“Countries, particularly those in the European Union, must support waiving intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines so that production capacity can be bolstered worldwide. We must learn from our battle against HIV that we cannot wait for years to get lifesaving vaccines and medicines to people who need them most. It is time that heads of government, global public health organizations, and pharmaceutical companies do all that’s necessary to ‘Vaccinate Our World’ now. “At this point, every single COVID-19 death is avoidable – we must do more as an interconnected global society to ‘Vaccinate Our World’ and stop this virus,” added Dr. V. Sam Prasad.
The ‘Vaccinate Our World’ call-to-action kicked off last month with a global digital advocacy campaign and has continued with virtual media events in Asia, South America, Africa, and Europe.